KANSAS CITY, KAN. — For Dr. James Price, medicine seemed a natural fit.
The product of a small town, Price was impressed early on by his contact with doctors, and he was intrigued by science.
Medicine seemed to be the best mesh of his interests.
"I like to be with people," said Price, executive dean of Kansas University's School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan. "I wanted to be my own boss and work for myself. The most common denominator seemed to be medicine."
That career path has put him at the helm of the KU School of Medicine, where he took over as dean last year, moving from the family practice department, where he had been chairman for 8 years.
Price's top priorities include increasing the number of underrepresented minority students on the campus and stepping up funding for the med center.
GRANT DOLLARS at the med center are expected to reach $30 million this year. With the state's budget situation, Price said the med center must be cautious about spending and limit new hiring.
"Unless some miracle happens, we'll be looking at each budget to see where we can trim," Price said. "We'll be looking very carefully at hiring to make sure we're on solid ground."
Price said a positive note is that the med center is seeing a surge in the number of students applying for admission.
"For a while, we were concerned because the number of applicants was dropping off," Price said.
That has changed dramatically. The number of med school applicants increased 48.9 percent from 1990 to 1991, he said.
In fact, the number of applicants for the medical school's next class is likely to top 1,800, Price said. The school accepts 175 students each year for its four-year program.
IN MAKING selections from that group of applicants, school officials are looking for diversity.
Although minority applications have increased from past years, Price said officials still aren't happy with the numbers. Enrolling more underrepresented minority students has been one of the med center's top priorities. A new position, associate dean for minority affairs, was created to help recruit and retain minority students.
Price is, however, encouraged that the number of women applicants has increased.
In fact, it won't be much longer before the medical school is likely to have a 50-50 split between men and women, he said.
According to medical center statistics, the medical school had 737 students last fall, including 249 women; 68 Asians; 36 Hispanics; 18 blacks; and four Native Americans.
THE LARGEST percentage of students come from Kansas, although the school attracts students from across the nation, Price said.
For the students accepted into the program, Price said, the training is stressful and expensive.
To help students deal with the stress, Price hopes to bring a dean of student life on board.
That person, he said, will help students deal with the pressure of medical school.
Part of the stress can be financial. Price said most students come out of school with an average debt of $44,000.
But the rewards of sticking it out, Price said, are worth it. Students may work for industry, the government, conduct research, go into private practice or even may try missionary work. Price said medicine is one field that "suits individual interests."
STUDENTS CHOOSE a specialty in the middle of their third year of school. After graduation, they face three to five years of residency work.
Price noted student interest in primary care is on the increase, and that's an area in which KU excels. In fact, KUMC was ranked sixth among medical schools whose mission is primary care in a recent U.S. News and World Report survey.
Because of the length of time that medical training requires, most students are into their 30s by graduation, Price said.
"By the time they finish the residency program, most students are about 35 or not too much younger," he said.